Two of the three white men who pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through a Georgia neighborhood in early 2020 were sentenced Monday to life imprisonment for federal hate crimes. Travis McMichael, the man responsible for the fatal shooting of Arbery, and his father, Greg McMichael, had already been sentenced to life without parole for their role in the murder during a state trial in Georgia.
Months after the McMichaels and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, each receivedfor murder in state court, all three men convicted of Arbery’s murder faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for: committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old black man. Bryan’s sentencing is scheduled for later Monday.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled successive hearings to sentence each of the defendants individually, starting with Travis McMichael, who fired a shotgun at Arbery after the street chase initiated by his father and joined Bryan.
The February 23, 2020 murder of Arbery became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and murders of unarmed black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also led the Justice Department to file federal charges.
When court hearings resume Monday in Georgia, Bryan also faces a possible life sentence after a jury convicted him along with the McMichaels in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and rights.. All three men were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional sentences for using firearms to commit a violent crime.
Whatever sentences they receive in federal court could end up being more symbolic than anything else. A state Supreme Court judge in January imposed life sentences on all three men for Arbery’s murder, denying both McMichaels any chance of parole.
All three defendants are still held in the coastal area of Glynn County, in the custody of US marshals, awaiting sentencing following their federal convictions in January.
Because they were the firstin a state court, they would be handed over to the Georgia Department of Corrections under protocol to serve their life sentences in a state prison.
In a lawsuit last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to direct them to a federal prison instead, saying they would not be safe in a Georgia prison system that is the subject of a US State Department investigation. of Justice focused on violence between prisoners .
Arbery’s family has insisted that the McMichaels and Bryan serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing that a federal prison wouldn’t be that hard. His parents strongly objected to the federal trial when both McMichaelsthat would be a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge rejected the plea agreement.
A federal judge does not have the authority to order the state relinquish its custody of inmates to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta attorney and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He said the judge could request the state corrections office to transfer the defendants to a federal prison.
Armed with rifles, the McMichaels jumped into a truck to chase Arbery after seeing him run past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the chase in his own truck and helped cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded a cell phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range while Arbery punched and reached for the shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery had stolen from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded that he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery’s family has long maintained that he was just jogging.
Still, more than two months passed before charges were filed for Arbery’s death. The McMichaels and Bryan were only arrested after the graphic video of the shooting was leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local law enforcement.
During the hate crime trial in February, prosecutors strengthened their case that Arbery’s murder was motivated by racism by showing the jury about two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racial slurs and made derogatory comments. about black people. One woman testified when she heard an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015, in which he said, “All those blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Defense attorneys for the three men argued that the McMichaels and Bryan were not chasing Arbery because of his race, but were acting on a serious — though false — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.